I Was a Workin' Gal

Time to explain my radio silence over the summer. I had the privilege of interning at a foundation here in Pittsburgh, which gave me the opportunity to translate my (historical) research skills to a different field, in an applied context. The mission of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, where I interned for ten weeks, is to keep people out of hospitals. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) has developed several interventions to train frontline health care workers in strategies to reduce medical errors, make their workflows more efficient (reducing redundant procedures), and have discussions with patients that empower them to become partners in their care. The JHF also provides grants to other organizations for them to pilot interventions that have similar goals.

I wanted to be an intern at the JHF for several reasons. On an ideological level, I am committed to reforming our country's healthcare system to eliminate health disparities between Americans of different races, classes, nationalities and gender identities. The JHF's work to reduce the cost of healthcare while improving healthcare outcomes appealed to me because I believe these measures are an important step towards addressing health disparities. On a practical level, I wanted to challenge myself to return to healthcare-related research and to write for a non-academic audience--particularly an audience that was actively engaged in the very work I was researching.

I was assigned to write a report summarizing the experiences of a JHF project that was wrapping up its final phase. The project managers wanted this report to be a tool they could use to share the intervention they had developed (in this case, a strategy to get HIV/AIDS patients to see primary care physicians). They hoped that other regional health organizations, health departments, or AIDS service organizations could also implement this strategy, having observed the successes and learned from the challenges faced by the JHF. 

In addition to learning how the intervention worked, how it was paid for, and what actors were involved, I also had to learn how a public health strategy like this can be evaluated. What are the measures that indicate success? What quantitative data--like number of visits to a physician by a single patient--is most useful and important? Similarly, what qualitative data--like a patients' satisfaction with the community healthcare worker who helped them make doctors appointments--helps us interpret these figures? I read narratives written by the participating organizations and community healthcare workers, compared them to the statistical analyses that my fellow intern (a biostatistician) prepared, and then summarized these findings in my report. Finding the words to communicate this information in a clear, concise, and easily digestible manner was a difficult but very instructive exercise.

Overall, the internship was a great experience. I learned an incredible amount about the current state of the American healthcare system. I renewed my desire to read, research, and write about public health and healthcare interventions. I met great people and was invited to several valuable networking events. Most of all, I found it refreshing to take a break from academia and see the all the hard work that people are doing to improve how Americans receive medical care.  

The internship ended in early August, and I quickly had to resume focus on my dissertation. I did three weeks of research in New York over the next two months, and I now spend my days reading through documents and trying to get a sense of the "big picture"--what were the major trends and events that affected Jewish Community Centers in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s? For the rest of this week, I will be posting about the dissertation project: what I initially proposed to study; the research I've done so far; and how the project has already changed!